PCU team attends Postgraduate Mini Conference in Stellenbosch, 22-23 November 2017

2 Dec 2017 - 09:15

On 22-23 November 2017, four members of the Plant Conservation Unit (PCU) participated in a mini conference at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS), Stellenbosch University. The aim of the inter-disciplinary conference was to connect postgraduate students from three different fields of interest namely social sciences, anthropology and natural sciences. The event also provided a forum for students to share their ongoing research and to get feedback and input from their peers and supervisors. The conference was organised by Prof Cherryl Walker, who is involved in the Cosmopolitan Karoo initiative, and Prof Ben Cousins of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Prof Desiree Lewis and her students from the Department of Women and Gender Studies at UWC also participated.

The Director of the PCU, Prof Timm Hoffman, was invited as a discussant to facilitate a panel on the ‘Policies and Practices of Conservation’, while PCU MSc candidate Olli Hyvarinen and PCU PhD candidates, Wesley Bell and Gina Arena, presented on their respective projects in the arid regions of South Africa. Through his research, Olli is exploring the impact of rainfall and land use on long-term vegetation change in Asante Sana Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape. For his PhD, Wesley is conducting a land degradation assessment with the aim to develop a regional land degradation map in Namaqualand while Gina is researching the effects of rainfall and land use on long-term vegetation change in rangelands in the Eastern Cape.

From left to right: Olli Hyvarinen, Gina Arena, Wesley Bell and Timm Hoffman

The conference kicked off with keynote addresses from Prof Pauline Peters (Harvard University) and Dr Sonwabile Mnwana (University of the Witwatersrand) who reflected, respectively, on the ‘land rush’ in sub-Saharan Africa, and complexities around conducting social science fieldwork. The predominance of talks by social science students afforded the PCU members a glimpse into the type of research conducted by these groups and the theories that drive their work. Talks given by students from Stellenbosch University, PLAAS, UWC, and UNISA were interesting and informative, focusing primarily on themes around land and agriculture, and the related complex socio-economic dynamics of marginalised (predominantly) rural communities.

Of particular interest and relevance to the PCU is the research being conducted by the Cosmopolitan Karoo group, who are currently investigating a number of socio-economic and land use-related issues surrounding the development of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, which is to be built close to Carnarvon in the Northern Cape. Their research questions are centred on human-wildlife conflict, renewable energy development, transitions from livestock to game farming, and water rights issues in the Karoo.

The mini conference provided a good opportunity for inter-disciplinary conversations and potential future collaborations, which may hopefully produce research that both conserves the biodiversity of an area while promoting sustainable livelihoods for the people living in those areas.

Below are some pictures from the event:


Panel 4: 'Policies and practices of conservation' during which Olli Hyvarinen presented on his research and Timm Hoffman was the discussant. 

Panel 7: 'Land use changes and resource access' during which Gina Arena presented on her research. 

~ Article written by Gina Arena, Wesley Bell, Olli Hyvarinen and Timm Hoffman